By Kate Gael
Augustana is at the forefront of a new way of teaching. In contrast with the popular drive towards massive open online courses (MOOCs), our professors have been experimenting with supported educational outreach to smaller classes across the continent.
Augustana’s Associate Dean of Research, Dr. Roxanne Harde, is one of the principal investigators of the hybrid program trial. “The courses are taught online, but every campus has a mentor for its students who are taking a course from another campus,” she explains. Brittany Johnson (BA ’15), was the mentor for last year’s winter courses and will be the mentor for Augustana students taking hybrid courses in the future.
Three new hybrid courses available to Augustana students combine the flexibility of online learning, on-campus mentorship, and access to internationally renowned experts. These interdisciplinary courses have been developed across the COPLAC (Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges) network, and several will offer the opportunity to travel and earn credit for hands-on research.
Marc Becker of Truman State University is offering Indigenous Peoples in Latin America, which will examine changes in those communities and ethnic identities from the time of pre-conquest civilizations to the present.
Kevin Whalen of the University of Minnesota Morris (UMM) is offering Native Strategies for Survival, 1880 – 1920, which will explore the events and policies that sought to eliminate American Indian communities and cultures and the strategies the populations developed to survive.
Lastly, Augustana’s own Jérôme Melançon will teach Colonialism and Reconciliation, which draws on Indigenous and settler perspectives to explore the history and legacy of colonialism; its institutions, including Residential Schools; and its legacy in Canadian culture and politics.
If students take either Whalen or Melançon’s classes in the winter semester, they can join the spring course, taught by Whalen and Becca Gerken of the UMM. This course provides students an opportunity to go to the University of Minnesota Morris, the site of an American Indian Boarding School, where they will study the general history of boarding schools and their ongoing legacy.
In these hybrid courses, students discuss weekly readings online and submit assignments electronically. They meet every week with the onsite faculty mentor, who assists with technical issues and reading comprehension. The mentor also collects feedback from the students regarding the effectiveness of the courses and distance learning system.
Overall, students have found that the weekly assignments and the discussion boards have led to a positive experience: discussions with peers and being able to return to certain conversations at any time has proven to be an invaluable asset of the online format.
The four upcoming courses are available to Augustana as the only Canadian member of COPLAC, an international association of post-secondary institutions located across North America, through a Teagle grant. The Teagle Foundation supports educational endeavors, and has funded COPLAC for three years to see if its members can find a way to share courses online. The goal is to see if more, or all, COPLAC members can start to offer Native Studies Minors and eventually Native Studies Majors as well. The grant is currently in the middle of its second year, and courses are already being set up into the 2016/2017 academic year.
“The ideal is that, at the end of the grant, we will all have sustainable models in place so that we can continue to deliver the programs as hybrid courses,” Harde says. “The investment is not huge, though we want to ensure we can continue to find funding for students to attend spring courses. We are aiming for an array of multidisciplinary credits so we can comfortably offer a minor.”